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Greywalls

Muirfield, Gullane, EH31 2EG.
Tel: 01620 842144
Internet: www.greywalls.co.uk

May 2011

Just around the corner from my favourite dining venue of late, La Potinière (which I have revisited since my last review, to the delight of both my palate and wallet) there hides a secluded country residence. To some - especially those with a well-developed handicap - the existence of this establishment will be old news; Greywalls overlooks the world-renowned Muirfield golf course, and the hotel and restaurant has hosted many of the world's greatest golfing names when the Open Championship (played out here many times) comes to town. Many of the rooms here have amazing views, down to the greens and bunkers of the course or, for those with different tastes, across the formal Italianate gardens and to the Firth of Forth in the distance.

I'm no property magnate but if I ever find myself hunting for a country residence of lottery-winner's proportions, candidates must be in possession of a suitably dramatic driveway with a grand, sweeping turning circle at the end. After all, I would need somewhere to park the Bentley (a 1955 Continental Park Ward drophead, naturally). Greywalls certainly fits the bill here (even if the turning circle is a little small for a Bentley), and this feeling of welcoming countryside grandeur continues inside. The UK may just have experienced its warmest April since records began, but as we were shown to the library we saw this hadn't dissuaded the staff from lighting a roaring fire in the hearth. As the pianist at the far end of the room tickled the ivories with a sequence of tunes at once familiar and yet somehow also unidentifiable, we perused the menus (there is a set menu, three courses for £28, as well as an à la carte option) and wine list.

Some restaurants persistently fail to get this right; pre-dinner drinks can morph into either a three-minute interlude between arrival and being shown to your table during which four different waiters ask if you have chosen yet, repeatedly returning to do so as every half-minute passes or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, a desolate hour during which the glasses are drained, the nibbles disappear, and not a member of staff can be seen. Not so at Greywalls; in fact, if I were to highlight one major success here, it would be the ambience created by the combination of very attentive staff and the setting of this fine, old building. If I could bottle and sell the sense of relaxation this brings, I could be a rich man.

Over a glass of Roux Brothers' Champagne (the only choice I was given and "it is grand cru, sir" was all the information on its provenance I could extract from the maître d'hôtel) which I found to be passable but nothing more exciting than that, as well as some hors d'oeuvres including some good smoked salmon mousse, we made our choices, before we were seated. I was immediately transported back to my school days, when I was made to stand in the corner with my dunce's hat on (actually that never happened, but allow me some poetic license, please). This is the only time I have ever been seated in a corner table facing into the corner, away from the rest of the room; I think I was meant to be appreciating the view of the golf course this almost afforded, but as the window was small, and I was seated at an angle to it, all I could see was thin strip of green. Standing up and leaning forward across the table, my view of the fairway and landscape beyond improved considerably. Quickly realising this would make eating rather difficult, however, I retook my seat. Never mind...I'm not really a golf fan, anyway.

We stuck with the à la carte menu, feeling quite limited by the set menu options, and teeing off (sorry, couldn't resist) with more smoked salmon was a good decision; organically farmed salmon served on a soft crouton spread with horseradish, all sitting atop some thin slivers of beetroot, was overall a success. The two major flavour combinations worked well, and most importantly - because it can be so easy to get wrong - the salmon was well sourced. So many farmed salmon tastes abhorrent, but this one was a pleasure. My only real criticism is that there was absolutely no need for the chunks of rock salt scattered over the top, but happily these were easily scraped away. I also tasted the Soufflé Suissesse, a signature dish forever associated with the Roux name. A semi-cooked soufflé removed from its mould and finished off in cream, then topped with gruyere and cheddar, I'm sorry to say I found it formless, shapeless and in terms of its freshness in the mouth, rather lacking. And yet this dish was a staple at Le Gavroche for many years, and was apparently adored by the Rothschilds; clearly, the Rothschilds and I have different tastes.

Things were no more solid with the main course, which for me was deeply coloured rump of Dornoch hogget, pan-fried but still a fine, rare hue. It had clearly been treated very sensitively in the kitchen. It came with some flavours that worked very well, in particular some tiny broad beans and a pea purée, as well as a little cylinder of potato and dark, roasted garlic. Some of what I found on the plate seemed a little incongruous though, including some slivers of tomato, a fried quarter of baby gem lettuce (up until now this is very reminiscent of a Tom Kitchin dish - was he the inpsiration, or the imitator, I wonder?) which tasted better than I imagined it would, but strangest of all an almond tuile. I love exploring sweet-savoury combinations, but this just didn't work; it would, however, have gone down very well indeed with some vanilla ice cream.

Also from the à la carte selection a platter of open ravioli with spring vegetables and wild mushrooms, beautifully presented with its dusting of tiny flowers, went down well. All these savoury dishes were eclipsed, however, by one of our subsequent desserts, a rhubarb tart with ginger ice cream, which was simply delicious. The rhubarb was topped with a soft, meringuey layer, and the ice cream was perfect - only a strategically placed almond tuile (now, where did that get to - oh damn, I ate it with the lamb) could have improved it. Alongside a dark chocolate, almond and orange dessert was appealing, but not earth-shattering.

The wine list is interesting, with a broad scattering of offerings, and as might be expected considering the ownership a reasonable number of top left bank Bordeaux, not an extensive selection of names but certainly stretching up to first growth upper echelons. But it is broad as well, bringing in wines from across the globe. After our glass of slightly ordinary Roux Champagne we opted for a half bottle of the 2009 Serge Dagueneau Pouilly-Fumé (there were certainly better choices for my lamb, but I was the designated driver so was over-ruled). This was actually pretty good, with a ripe rather than green Sauvignon character on the nose at first, more golden and solid than I expected, revealing with time a little punchy, grassy edge. And on the palate the same character, with a lip-smacking acidity in the finish. All in all, this would be a pretty good choice for Sauvignon fans. 15.5/20

Our meal finished, I left Greywalls impressed with the service and ambience, although the food was hit and miss. As for my dunce's hat, I left it as a tip. We made a fairly uneventful journey home, the only mishap being the untimely death of a rather capricious headlight. Well, don't be surprised; even on fantasy cars headlights can fail, you know.

Prices: As noted above, there is a three-course set dinner menu for £28 per head (£25 at lunchtime), whereas the à la carte route will set you back £7-10 for a starter, £16-29.50 for a main course (most are less than £20, it is only the Aberdeen Angus beef or North Berwick lobster that lie north of this figure), and about £8 for dessert. As for the wine list, anything goes, but there are some affordable and interesting offerings. (29/7/11)